In 1998, the Spice Girls — Ginger, Posh, Scary, Baby and Sporty — traveled to the life-giving star at the center of our solar system, the sun.
Ten years later, Cher followed suite. Retired space cadet Britney Spears visited the sun in 2009 and — one more time — in 2011. The sun, hotspot that it is, was particularly active in 2015, welcoming Katy Perry, Ariana Grande and Nicky Minaj. And in 2016, the sun played host to a five-octave performer beamed in from Planet Butterfly: Mariah Carey.
When not accommodating pretty much every pop diva on the known planet, Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe — or, as the locals simply refer to it, Globen — does indeed function as the not-so-gaseous centerpiece of the world’s largest permanent scale model of our planetary system. Opened in 1989, the bulbous ice hockey arena-cum-concert venue complete with a bonkers exterior inclined elevator is the largest hemispherical building in the world with a diameter of 361 feet.
Developed on a scale of 1:20 million, the Sweden Solar System (SSS) extends outwards from the Ericsson Globe and across Sweden’s capital city where terrestrial travelers can pay their respects to the five asteroid belt-confined planets that orbit closest to the sun: Mercury (1.8 miles away from the sun at the Stockholm City Museum with a diameter of 9.8 inches); Venus (3.4 miles away at the Royal Institute of Technology with a diameter of 2 feet); Earth and its moon (4.7 miles away at the Swedish Museum of Natural History with diameters of 2 feet and 7 inches, respectively); and Mars (7.2 miles away in a suburban shopping mall with a diameter spanning just a little over a foot).
How a scale model of Mars wound up in a shopping mall while its fellow inner planets are on display on the grounds of respectable museums is anyone’s guess.
The outer planets of the Sweden Solar System are, naturally, located further afield from the Ericsson Globe. An impressive 24 feet in diameter, Jupiter is represented by a colorful roadside flower arrangement located just 25 miles north of Stockholm’s one-and-only sun-representing sports arena, a landmark facility that has also hosted both the Dalai Lama and the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Sweden Solar System notes that there are plans to replace the traffic circle-bound floral Jupiter near Stockholm Arlanda Airport with a proper statue.
Famed for its soaring 13th century cathedral and world-class university, Sweden’s fourth largest city, Uppsala, is home to a 20-foot diameter "preliminary presentation" of Saturn. It’s located 45 miles north of the sun at the historic namesake observatory of Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius.
Reconstructed after a rash of somewhat-predictable vandalism, Uranus, all 8-and-a-half-feet of it, can be found just outside of Uppsala proper in historic Lövstabruk, a tiny village best known known for its historic ironworks. Uranus’ distance from the sun? Eighty-one miles.
Last but not least is lonely old Neptune. Measuring over 8 feet in diameter, an illuminated-at-night representation of the blue-tinted gas giant — the eighth and farthest planet from the sun — can be found 142 miles from the center of the solar system in the coastal village of Söderhamn, an appropriate locale for a planet named in honor of the Roman god of the sea.
With all of our solar system’s planets represented, you’d think that the Sweden Solar System, a project described by as a “is a pedagogical instrument” that “conveys a direct feeling of the enormous distances in space, and how small the planets are compared to the sun,” might stop there.
Stretching along the Baltic coastline to the northern reaches of Sweden and encompassing 11 town and cities in total, the Sweden Solar System also includes various scale models of asteroids, comets near-Earth objects and a quartet of dwarf planets including Pluto, which just recently celebrated (or non-celebrated) the 10-year anniversary of its hugely controversial demotion. Pluto, along with its largest moon, Charon, are located some 186 miles from the Ericsson Globe in the lakefront town of Delsbo. It measures just under 5 inches in diameter.
The most northerly planetary object in the Sweden Solar System can be 566 miles away from the Ericsson Globe in Luleå, a vibrant port town located in Sweden’s northernmost county. Here, at the city’s Teknikens Hus science center, you'll find a 4-inch diameter model of likely dwarf planet 90377 Sedna.
To visit the Sweden Solar System’s sole, statue-less concept, one must venture a couple hundreds of miles northwest of Luleå — and 590 miles away from Ericsson Globe — to the Swedish Lapland. North of the Arctic Circle in the chilly tourism hub of Kiruna — home to the world-famous Icehotel — is an informative sign, conveniently located outside of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, that explains termination shock.
Described by NASA as an outer boundary of the solar system “where the bubble of solar wind particles slows down so that the particles are traveling slower than the speed of sound,” termination shock may one day be granted a proper sculpture. "A future sculpture is envisioned to express this phenomenon reminiscent of aurorae frequently seen in northern Sweden," explains the Sweden Solar System website.
The only two components of the Sweden Solar System located to the south of Stockholm are its two comets. Swift-Tuttle’s Comet is located 242 miles away from the Ericsson Globe at a science center in the bustling maritime city of Karlshamn. Halley’s Comet, represented by a quartet of models, can be found 127 miles away at the Balthazar Science Center in Skövde, a charming town in the south-central Swedish province of Västergötland.
Even obscure trans-Neptunian objects such as 28978 Ixion get a chance to shine in the Sweden Solar System. (Photo: Anders Sandberg/flickr)
With a total of 18 models/artistic representations spread out across Sweden, this brilliant multi-stop roadside attraction-meets-astronomy lesson could potentially make for one epic road trip.
Just think: you could start out in the middle of Stockholm with a professional hockey game and a semi-terrifying ride up the side of the Globen. Or maybe a Cure (!) concert. Or perhaps you'll want to take in a touch of Bieber, if so inclined — it's likely that the 16,000-person capacity arena will reach the actual surface temperature of the sun, 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, during that one. Whatever the case, the center of the Sweden Solar System maintains a packed calendar of upcoming events.
Once you've recovered and had a chance to enjoy Stockholm's many non-astronomical attractions, you could spend the next week or so planet-hopping around Sweden before eventually winding up on the far edges of the solar system hunkered down beneath a sheepskin blanket in a hotel room constructed from ice.
Venus model photo: Joongi Kim/flickr
Map: Sweden Solar System